Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Power of HD

I'm not really sure how long its been since the introduction of High Definition to the public, but it has definitely been awhile and the world is still taking its sweet time easing into it. I don't blame the world either - 'cause really, to upgrade to HD, you have to spend a lot of freaking money. Lets take the jump from VHS to DVD as a counter example. When DVDs first came out - people were asking the same question that they are asking now, "Is it really that much better?" I actually remember the first time I realized the sharpness of DVD. I was in a Sony store and they were playing a Bad Boys trailer - besides everything just looking so great - I remember that the "This Preview has been approved for all audiences" text on that green background looking crazy clear! And very shortly after I could answer the question, "Yes, it really is that much better!"

Now here's the thing - with the advent of DVD there was only one thing you needed to buy - a DVD player. That was the beauty. You could use all your existing equipment (i.e. your existing TV) to enjoy the beauty of DVD. Now granted, it was also the first time you could enjoy 5.1 surround sound - which required you to buy a 5.1 system - but even if you didn't have that system, you could still marvel at the beauty of DVD quality.

Well, now HD has been introduced and you can probably tell what I'm getting at. The question is being asked again "Is HD really that much better than DVD?" Well, its a tricky issue. I find that HD isn't as consistently better than DVD as DVD was better than VHS. Like you could pick up any DVD back in the day and it would blow the VHS equivalent out of the water. With HD on the other hand - there's quite a range. And its really due to the range in HD material that exists out there.

For example, lets start with the output. Already HD doesn't have one standard. You have 720p (720 horizontal lines of resolution) and 1080p (1080 horizontal lines of resolution). So right there, some HDTVs look "that much better", and some don't. Secondly, lets talk about transfers. Because DVD was a pretty sharp format to start out with, HD transfers to Blu-ray and HD-DVD have to be excellent to be "that much better". And from the reviews I've been reading - not all the transfers are coming out that great. (For those who don't know, basically the source material that's shot needs to be compressed down to the Blu-ray and HD-DVD format. This transferring process can vary in quality). Just as a comparison, I own House of Flying Daggers on Blu-ray and Invincible - and there are worlds of difference in terms of how great they actually look.

Another issue I've found is projection size. Sometimes you really can't appreciate how good HD material is until you blow it up to a theatre size screen. HD is the first video source to rival the resolution of film. Thus, it is "that much better" in the way that when you project HD material to a theatre size screen - its still really sharp, unlike DVD. You probably wouldn't notice as big a difference on a smaller screen.

The last issue I've noticed in comparing SD (standard definition) and HD material is what the source is shot on. For those who don't know, there's basically 3 things they transfer successfully to HD output: material shot on film, material shot on HD-video, and CG material. The thing about material that is shot on HD and CG, the transfer is almost flawless, if not flawless. That is, the digital material is transferred perfectly. However, stuff shot on film has to go through a process of scanning each film frame into a digital equivalent. And sometimes this isn't done so successfully. Actually, sometimes its done perfectly successfully, but just the nature of film - it doesn't look as sharp and clean as HD. This is completely fine artistically - like I'll definitely argue for the film look over HD look in some cases - but if we're talking about seeing "how much better HD looks than DVD", the best material you have to consider is stuff that's shot on HD. That's why I still stand by, the absolute best stuff I've seen in HD is stuff like Jay Leno or Conan O'Brian - because the source originates from an HD camera.

While on that topic - sometimes what constitutes something looking so much better is how the film was shot itself. Because HD is so sharp - you notice stuff that's out of focus (usually on purpose). So really, to appreciate the magnificence of HD, you have to have a shot that has a extremely large depth of field. Than you start see details.

Oh, and details? Well, sometimes, CG material really isn't the best material to compare. Again, since DVD is a pretty sharp medium to start off with, sometimes DVDs capture all the detail that a CG artist has rendered. I mean, when you look at CG skin, a CG artists may render it pretty flat and smooth. Well, when going to HD, you can't really get anymore detail out of that skin. Whereas with really life stuff, you can always get more detail.

So with all of that said - what HDTV your watching it on, the size of it, the source material, you can see how HD may not conivnce people. But the problem is the people aren't watching the right HD material that showcases how good it is. So with that said, in my opinion, when you take the best DVD material and the best HD material that


You just need to find the right stuff. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, back to the point of using your existing equipment. Again, when DVDs came around, you didn't really need taht much new equipment. With High Definition - you pretty much need to completely overhaul your home theatre/TV that you watch. 'Cause quite honestly, SDTV sucks on HDTVs. DVDs look alright, but even then. I mean, to truly make HD worth your while, you need to get at 1080p TV (say $2500-$3000 CDN), an HDBox (extra $20-$40 CDN a month), a Blu-ray/HD-DVD player ($500-$1000 CDN) - so it all really adds up. The only thing that you can use from the past is your 5.1 surround sound system. So it is a lot to convert to HD.

However, really the point of this entry was to say that, once you have converted to HD - its amazing the power it has over you. Particularly - the power it has over you to watch things you would never have watched in the past. I haven't made the complete conversion to HD yet, but I have a bunch of friends who have. And I can't tell you how many countless hours people will watch the same Coldplay concert over and over again. Or how people who have never watched sports in their life start to watch sports. Or how much of a kick you get out of watching a helicopter flyby shot of landscape.

Here's the thing about HD that's unlike DVD. DVD kind of revolutionized how we watch movies, the quality was great. However, HD - takes that approach and applies it to everything that we watch! Not just movies, but tv shows, the news, sports games, etc. I mean when DVD came out, the resolution of hockey games stayed the same. But with HD, everything got upped!

And that's great - 'cause it gives documentaries like the much takled about "Planet Earth" a real home. I mean EVERYONE's talking about Planet Earth and how brilliant it is. And I think its highly due to the fact that it is done in HD. The same filmmakers did a documentary called The Blue Planet and no one kicked a fuss about that. Granted Planet Earth is a way bigger project - but still, I think its publicity has gotta be at least 50% due to the fact that it looks so gorgeous.

So yes, HD is that much better than SD. Yes, to upgrade to HD, its a huge chunk out of your wallet. But the thing is, if you do, you'll will be pleased with how much stuff you'll be watching again. I mean you'll basically fall in love with your TV again. It's almost like you stop watching the show for the show and more for just how good it looks.

I leave you with some things you should watch if you have an HD setup. And be sure to visit for all your Blu-ray and HD-DVD needs.

-Invincible on Blu-ray
-Planet Earth on DiscoveryHD or HD-DVD or Blu-ray
-The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
-Late Night with Conan O'Brien

(my list is limited 'cause I myself don't have an HD setup)

Thanks for reading.

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